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What English Learners Need to Thrive: A Policy Perspective

Often, we commend our English learners and immigrant or refugee students for their resilience. But is recognizing the barriers they face enough? What are some ways we can bring in accountability and systemic change to meet the diverse needs of these students and empower them to succeed in school?

We discuss the important topic of addressing exactly what support English learners need with Rosario Quiroz Villarreal, a policy entreprenuer and advocate for immigrant students and families.

The entire conversation was powerful and packed with key insights, but a few points felt particularly urgent:

1. The students who should have the most support may be getting the least.

The majority of educators supporting ELs in school feel they don't have adequate support to do right by these students - and express concern that many of these same students are without a caregiver at home who can support their school work. These are two big gaps that are jeopardizing ELs' potential.

2. The toxic stress many immigrant students experience threatens long-term effects.

Stressors such as family separation, poverty, discrimination, or loss can all result in toxic levels of stress; in children this can affect their developing brain and impact their physical and mental health. In our interview, Rosario Quiroz Villanueva argues that many policies in the education system disregard the needs of these children and instead perpetuate the issue.

3. Many educators working with ELs are not adequately equipped - that needs to change.

Many teachers do not directly reflect the identities of their students and may not understand their experiences outside the classroom. It is essential that we provide teachers with targeted professional development and instructional tools to support academic language instruction. We must also prepare educators to deal with the trauma that many of their students face.

For more great insight and information, listen to our entire conversation here or wherever you get your podcasts by searching for Highest Aspirations . During our conversation, we mention the following organizations and resources:

  • The Next 100, where you can find out more about Rosario's work and history working in the education/social justice space
  • Patricia Gándara and her work with The Civil Rights Project, whom Rosario cites as an inspiring leader in the field
  • Imm Schools, immigrant-led non-profit organization that partners with K-12 schools and educators to support undocumented students and families

Rosario Quiroz Villareal is a policy entrepreneur at Next100 focused on increasing educational equity for immigrant students and students of color, including by removing the systemic barriers their families face when seeking opportunity. Among other projects, she has worked with a diverse coalition of immigration and education advocates to draft a toolkit for K–12 educators that prepared them to support their students, families, and colleagues when the DACA decision came down from the Supreme Court. You can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn to stay up to date with her research and work.


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